University Politics

Breaking silence, Syverud announces his opposition to Trump’s executive order on immigration ban

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In a statement to the University Senate on Wednesday that was read by Provost Michele Wheatly, Chancellor Kent Syverud announced his opposition to President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration ban.

Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud on Wednesday denounced President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration. That came after about 250 increasingly frustrated Syracuse University faculty members signed a petition this week calling on him to do so.

In a statement to the University Senate on Wednesday that was read by Provost Michele Wheatly, Syverud spoke out against the ban, saying SU “simply cannot support or abide by any policy that discriminates against, or makes a preference for, one person over the other based on religion, national origin or other inherent characteristics.”

“Any such policy is wrong and antithetical to the constitution of the United States of America and the values of this university,” he said.

Kevin Quinn, SU’s senior vice president of public affairs, said in a statement to The Daily Orange that the university hopes Syverud’s statement is “responsive to the petition.”

Osamah Khalil, an assistant professor of history at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs who created the ongoing online petition, said in an email that he was happy Syverud made “such a strong statement” against the ban.

“And that the university is joining its peers around the nation and the world in opposing the ban. I hope that the university will also support efforts to have the Executive Order revoked,” he said.

It was Syverud’s first comment related to the ban since last week, when in an email to the university community, he expressed support for students affected by the ban but didn’t openly oppose the order, which bans immigration for 90 days from seven majority Muslim countries, though the order is temporarily suspended.

Syverud had largely kept silent regarding his stance on the executive order before Wednesday. A number of SU’s peer institutions — Boston University, Cornell University, Northwestern University, Tulane University and the University of Rochester — issued statements either condemning or expressing strong concern about the divisive executive order before Syverud did. Syverud was also not among 44 university leaders who signed a letter to Trump calling for the order to be revoked.

Syverud’s ambivalence on the executive order until Wednesday increasingly drew frustration from many SU faculty members, who said they viewed him as failing to fulfill his moral responsibilities.

After Syverud issued his statement, Janice Dowell, an associate professor and the graduate director of philosophy, said it was baffling that the chancellor took so long to express clearly his opposition to the ban.

“That said, it is very good to hear such opposition finally so forcefully expressed,” she said.

Dowell had previously created an open petition for students, faculty and staff a few days before the chancellor sent his email.

“It’s unclear to me why the university was hesitant to take a firmer stance, especially one that had been supported by its peers,” Khalil said earlier this week. “We’re on the outside and we’re far behind where our peer institutions are and their stance on this.”

Tom Perreault, a geography professor at the Maxwell School who also signed the petition, said that when he received the chancellor’s email, he thought it was a weak statement.

“There wasn’t a sense of condemnation or strong statement rejecting in principle of the executive order,” Perreault said.

The petition states that the faculty members were “deeply disappointed” that Syverud hadn’t expressed a clear opposition to the executive order. It also pressed Syverud to “exemplify true moral leadership” not just as the head of the university but also as an educational leader in the Syracuse community, which houses many immigrants and refugees.

Khalil said the petition poses ethical and moral questions pertaining to SU’s role nationally and internationally in the face of the presidential administration that he said is “determined to” implement discriminatory law. In his eyes, the role of the university, he added, is to embrace inclusion, tolerance, understanding and education.

Refusing to take a clear stand, Khalil said, had an implication that SU students, faculty, staff and alumni are seen as being complicit in accepting the ban.

This was not the first petition faculty have signed that is directed toward Syverud on the issue, though it is the first to have predominantly faculty signatories.

When she saw Syverud’s email, Dowell said she thought it was not sufficient.

“In offering support to mitigate the effects of the ban, (Syverud) is accepting that as a reality,” Dowell said earlier this week. “ … I find that the administration’s behavior is just completely baffling. It makes no sense to me that they wouldn’t express open opposition to this travel ban, which is a clear threat to the university.”

In serving as a faculty member for 20 years at three different institutions, Dowell said she has never seen a situation where as many faculty members are united on one issue as SU faculty are on this one.

Perreault said the petition was developed not to criticize Syverud for not speaking out altogether but rather to urge him to take a clearer stance, like other university chancellors and presidents and as Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner did.

As of Wednesday evening, 268 SU community members — mostly tenured and non-tenured faculty members across different schools and colleges — had signed the petition.

Trump signed the executive order in late January prohibiting people from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the country for the next 90 days, and all refugee admissions for 120 days. The order also includes those who have student visas. As a direct consequence of the order, 50 SU students from the banned countries have been advised by the Slutzker Center for International Services not to travel out of the country because they wouldn’t be allowed to return.

Trump’s controversial executive order, however, is temporarily suspended after a judicial order was issued from a federal district court judge in Seattle last week. A federal appeals court in San Francisco has begun a hearing argument after the U.S. Department of Justice filed an appeal.

The executive order engendered public outrage and prompted hundreds to demonstrate against the order both locally and nationally. Two days after the executive order was signed, hundreds of people — including Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner — showed up to Syracuse Hancock International Airport to protest. Between 100 and 200 SU community members also participated in the “Rally for Refugees” march, organized by several student organizations on campus, to exemplify solidarity with refugees on Thursday.

Attorneys from SU’s Office of the General Counsel and Slutzker Center staff held two open house sessions about immigration concerns on Tuesday.

In addition to academics, many politicians, business leaders and celebrities have also come forward to object the immigration restriction. U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D) of New York came out against the order. One hundred and twenty seven tech companies — including Apple, Facebook and Google — have filed an amicus brief opposing the executive ban.

Perreault said keeping silent on the executive order was “timid leadership” from Syverud.

“Leadership requires moral courage and moral courage is shown in times of challenge,” Perreault said.

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